Black Shuck Books 2016
CHECKING IN by James Everington
THE VIEW FROM THE BASEMENT by Alison Littlewood
NIGHT PORTERS by Iain Rowan
TICK BOX by Dan Howarth
THE EDIFICE OF DUST by Amelia Mangan
LOST AND FOUND by S P Miskowski
HOUSEKEEPING by Ray Cluley
SOMETHING LIKE BLOOD by Alex Davis
THE COYOTE CORPORATION’S MISPLACED SONG by Cate Gardner
WRATH OF THE DEEP by Simon Bestwick
THE SEALED WINDOW by Mark West
THE BLUE ROOM by V H Leslie
CHECKING OUT by James Everington
When I read this book, my comments will appear in the thought stream below.
CHECKING IN by James Everington
“You just want to get to your room.
When you eventually do, it holds no surprises.”
Like that room, the nature of this book itself and how to or how not to reach into it. Holds no surprises at all. This is indeed the absolutely perfect entrée.
The View from the Basement by Alison Littlewood
“She knew how to organise a holiday, did Carol.”
Leslie Baines is staying at this very Hyde Hotel. And it’s exquisitely awful, if recognisable as a type. His own type is a travelling salesman one and all he sees are guests like him or like his ex-wife Carol who would have surely have chosen better than staying here. A frightening series of paranoiac events occurs towards more than just a sinking feeling…
(BANES not BAINES, I suggest, with the i missing like the poster in the lift?)
NIGHT PORTERS by Iain Rowan
“The general manager straightened up from the counter, and rested his hand on the receptionist’s head for a moment in a strange gesture that was neither pat nor stroke,…”
I have a sense we are living in a fifties version of London by our keep visiting this slightly off-kilter, oppressive, mid-market hotel, but I may be wrong. The PowerPoint now on the laptop seems to throw me off that scent, however. But this episode still presents a perfect disarmingly deadpan ambiance of this hotel, with another commercial traveller or businessman preparing for client meetings in his Hyde Hotel room, partial to gin, slipping down to the reception each night for the night porter to open up the bar….
Nothing seems to touch the sides, especially in this business-man’s mind, a humdrumness, a sapping routine that seems to plague all interaction, and only the corridor carpets seem to show any joie de vivre.
The ending is deadpan, too, but effective. I think.
(Loved it, on the quiet.)
TICK BOX by Dan Howarth
“–the word ‘nondescript’. Edwards noted to his amusement that the word also seemed to apply to the staff: the receptionist greeted him with a smile as bland as the hotel décor.”
Angst, more “routine business”, blooded tarps, a hammer, marital retribution by atrocity, alias names, more doors to go out through and come from behind the growing gestalt of this hotel, through and from behind its bar, through and from behind its reception desk, bland hotel staff – but suddenly some of these ingredients take on their own splatter of a Sistine Chapel ceiling, an atrocity hitman as this story’s hotel guest, who turns out arguably to BE his own sidekick as well as his own predator, horror without victims, because everyone, except those with dead eyes, is the horror, much to the turned eye of the dead-end hotel staff who stand by and merely provide the meagre hospitality like this bland planet called Earth as hotel to provide rooms for where the movers and shakers can move and shake. The rest of us plod on, blinkered.
[That’s me jamming with the ideas and manic audit-trail of this story (within the context of this anthology so far), a story that enticingly invites such jamming, I guess. And while I am jamming, let me tell you that the word ‘angst’ in this story’s context served to trigger a memory of ‘Welcome to the Angst Hotel’, a story collaboration by Paul Pinn (sadly passing at a far too early age as we were all shocked to learn in recent days) and myself, as published in 1999 in some obscure magazine called ‘Passenger Pigeons’. And also, coincidentally, this story triggered memory of my only published story in recent years (‘Sleep’s Lost Labour’ in the publication here), one that mainly dealt with the noise some drunken guests often make in hotels in the small hours as they lurch down the corridor looking for their room, sometimes a relentless noise of shouts and chatter that never seems to end!]
The Edifice of Dust by Amelia Mangan
“It made a nice change, every so often, to see into the present.”
“Her footsteps drowning in thick cheap carpeting as she followed the indifferent bellhop; the sullen strobe of dull light…”
This is a remarkably impressive work. If I can be gobsmacked, I’ve just been gobsmacked by this richly textured cross-section of time as well as literature, with Phaedra staying at Hyde Hotel and redesigning it through time, in communication with her sister Chelsea, both architects against duration itself, never to win, but brave enough to try, and I now know that the dead-end, dead-eyed, deadpan hotel so far is what it is as a result of a settlement of dust, a propensity to fall as all buildings have, to desiccate, too, as we all do as people within those buildings. I now know a lot more about about us, about dust. And Hyde Hotel, too.
[“Bedlam and Gehenna”, in this story’s Blakean section, is a striking reminder that Paul Pinn worked at Bedlam in South London during his life.]
Some anthologies have ley-lines throughout, not only within each story. This book has intentional ley-lines, but unintentional ones, too
Lost and Found by S P Miskowski
“Always comparing things to other things.”
I am, indeed. And before I tell you that this story is a perfect one for me, I need to excuse an embarrassment of riches in this book so far, one gem following another gem, from room to room in this hotel where my favourite writer stays in turn.
“The hallway is curved, which seems odd in a building that looks square. Optical illusion, or an architectural compensation.”
That is the previous story’s domain, I guess.
Anyway, this story blends the literary features of two of my all time favourite writers, Robert Aickman and Elizabeth Bowen (link is to my Bowen site), as well as of a writer just as rarefied who is SPM no doubt. In fact, Bowen in her own photographs strongly resembles, with her cigarette, the description of the photograph seen by this Hyde hotel stayer (a Canadian woman out of her comfort zone in Britain to visit the haunts of HER favourite author, an author who I reckon, despite the biographical differences, is Bowen herself with a pseudonym, and who also surely must have written some of her fiction in various rooms of the Hyde).
This story is this book’s deadpan aura to the nth degree, reaching out to reside forever smouldering away with an inability to leave the hotel at all.
“The sheets are damp with sweat. They don’t smell like me,…”
I am so sincerely taken with this story, as if it were written specially for me (I know it wasn’t) – and I can’t bring myself to leave it. No irony intended.
But needs must.
“…the tantalising aroma of bacon and eggs reached me. I let my hunger lead me down a passage with streaky black stains, apparent scars from years of food trolleys banging against the walls.”
A masterpiece. It really is.
Sorry, the narrator claims to be American not Canadian, and without rechecking thoroughly maybe the narrator was not confirmed as man or woman? Just inferring on my part from “feeling the cold rush of air from the tunnels swirl up around my legs,”?
Thanks very much. I’m so glad you enjoyed “Lost and Found.” What a beautiful review of the entire anthology! Yes, I’m American and the protagonist I imagined is a woman. It’s a privilege to be included in this book with British writers I’ve long admired. Cheers!
HOUSEKEEPING by Ray Cluley
“–you should not have to deal with this.”
Lean and hungry prose about purple prose. A girl called Housekeeping, who cleans the rooms at the Hyde, doesn’t take everything as read. Deadpan, did I say earlier? Well, this story is so deadpan I actually had to pinch my arm to see if I was still alive.
My previous reviews of this author HERE
Something Like Blood by Alex Davis
“The door to the cupboard reveals that it has no back, just the pink patterned wall showing behind it.”
The restaurant now described as having “a sort of fallen grandeur,” makes me think that I was not being far-fetched earlier when I said the elegant Elizabeth Bowen could once have stayed at the Hyde Hotel…
Meanwhile, we have here a harkening back to an erstwhile wife affecting the stay of a man, this one called Michael, about his hiding his Jekyll in the Hyde, to get away and change the clothes of his life’s garb, an interesting comparison with Littlewood’s earlier portrayal of a haunting knows-best wife. And the pink patterned wall is just about to erupt into a Sistine ceiling of Haworth splatter, a red masque of death, but not without Michael first getting his end away! And possibly with the chambermaid from the Cluley, too.
This is a Pan Book of Horrors ethos for its own sake with, as only this hotel could supply, a slow insidious accretive seeping of the small beginnings of “something like” to the full-blooded SOMETHING ITSELF.
The Coyote Corporation’s Misplaced Song by Cate Gardner
“Although, they were yet to decide who had kidnapped whom.”
Indeed. And indeed this story about Arthur’s stay at the now fully envisaged Hyde Hotel is a remarkably enjoyable work (and provocative, too, about childhood bullies themselves becoming a gloop as a lesson for our dangerously terrorist times), a story that is an absurdist happening, where LULLABY is either a child or a bomb that Arthur has with him, and no coincidence that Room Service is someone called LU-something, too. Sausages and mash with its own contiguous gloop of sweat that perhaps explains SPM’s earlier unidentified sweat in her heroine’s bed. Hundreds of kids chasing an ice cream van. Spiders. Arthur as a self-destruct version of the purple message in the Cluley. I’m still working out all the images and connections, even now. You have fun, too. Best way of transcending everything and, by transcending, healing, too. A misplaced song is someone else’s karaoke, I say.
Wrath of the Deep by Simon Bestwick
“…there were all sorts of unsavoury rumours about the Hyde Hotel, although they were vague and contradictory, few of them even agreeing to its location.”
…which GPS-triangulative dubiety helped me somewhat because I had thought, till then, that the Hyde was far from the sea. I imagined it in an inland city. Shaken reluctantly out of this assumption, I did relish the described nature of the fish and the list of their strange but real names and a sense of this story not only being about crime but becoming its own crime, with such ruthless unsubtle skullduggery of plotting by means of a sort of artful baiting the reader as gullible catch itself.
‘ “I wouldn’t talk. I’m not stupid.” However short the sentence, Kellett wouldn’t live to see the end of it,… ‘
That’s not a spoiler, as this passage came near the beginning. Bluff or double bluff, I sense this story as it proceeds from there is interestingly, if off-puttingly, apocryphal in the Hyde Hotel canon, but with its own hitman and Latinate phrases leading to its own plain, if equally red, version of the splattering Sistine ceiling, it serves to match some of the other stories in this book – and I’ll depute you, reader of this review, if you are willing, to enjoy this story’s seemingly onward-driving and accomplished narrative of crime story, treasure trove, retribution, Innsmouthian horror but, best or Bestwick of all, a startling mouthy amulet to haunt anyone’s dreams!
My previous Bestwick reviews HERE and HERE.
The Hyde both is and isn’t besides the sea, Des. It’s a Schrodinger hotel; it’s a picture of a young girl looking left *and* an old lady looking right.
Thanks, James, I relish that thought and you describe it well. I am sure I saw the word Schrodinger with a different spelling in one of the stories as clue. I suppose this is just another reason the book is working well as I felt it deeply the breaking of my assumptions. A good lesson for any reader.
Sorry, I read that word in another book (Lure of Devouring Light) this morning. But it does fit in with my theory of cross-serendipity and synchronicity!
The Sealed Window by Mark West
“Skin glistened, clothes featured dark spots at arms and smalls of back.”
That sweat, again, transposed from person to person, author to author? With this hot day, our hero is sent to the city for a business course to help him in his increasingly moribund ‘new brooms sweep clean’ job. His firm has of course booked him into the Hyde, where its deadpan blandness and wonky accoutrements and altering identities and purple message suicides and even one’s own wife haunting the place again with surrogate groans of retributory human rutting, and with its fifties feel in our own present day, even the proximate sea in an inland city, with skewed perceptions and the corridors ‘undulating’ with ‘ebb and flow’ as part of those perceptions, which explains a lot….
My review of this author’s classic ‘The City in the Rain’ story: HERE
I read and reviewed the next story last October from the author’s own collection ‘Skein and Bone’ and this was what I wrote about it then:
THE BLUE ROOM by V.H. Leslie
“There was so much blue in the world, she’d never noticed it before.”
A truly haunting story of a woman, having been widowed by her artist painter husband, staying at a hotel and discovering herself in a room – not of magnolia and tired flat pack furniture as she expected – but of various shades of blue. Also bearing on its wall a painting of a woman and a crow, a painting by Picasso.
This is a strong portrait of Proustian selves not only of people but also of things, rooms and places.
The fact that the hotel is called Hyde Hotel is, for me, no accident.
The inter-mutual sucking of colours in pecking orders of strength and will power or deliberate passiveness between people as well as selves within each person.
The vision of an orgy towards the end is a striking case in point, which I will leave you to read to discover its significance within the interpretation I have set out above in a broad brushstroke.
This is an original concept of the ‘blue mist’ as another form of ‘red mist’ (red mist as an expression of sudden, implacable anger.)
I’ll leave you to guess what the blue mist represents.
I am left with one question: was the Picasso a print or an original?
CHECKING OUT by James Everington
“The bed sheets are damp with your sweat; you have thrashed around so much in the night it looks like someone else has slept alongside you.”
A telling extract from an even more telling ending. But I love even better his observation by means of Schrodinger – as part of this very review above!
A honestly haunting book that will stick to you like a tacky sheen on human hide.
You won’t ever stop trying to open the filthy window to see the blue sea outside, I say. Perhaps you can at least use its glass as a mirror?
Cross- referenced this book with ‘Deadfall Hotel’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/10288/#comment-8743
Cross-referenced with The UNCONSOLED here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/the-unconsoled-kazuo-ishiguro/